Part II: Life as a Western Convert to Islam: “True Friends Will Understand Your Choice, Even if They Don’t Fully Agree”

One of the most difficult parts of your conversion is not the process of knowledge or the search for the truth, but especially to maintain the family ties and the existing circle of friends. Every convert must go through this difficult process, whereby one is judged by his own family and friends.

The mother who is in tears, or the father who reacts incomprehensible, as if you had committed a murder. There are even several parents who ask their son or daughter to move out. Families do not always understand the choice of their child and are often not open to it. Communication is the most important thing at this stage. It’s important that families talk about the decision their child has made, instead of trying to convince them to leave their faith.

Personally, I had a hard time connecting with my parents in regards to religion and Islam. Not only because of the negative image that exists of Islam in the media, but also because of the aversion to religion that my family had. For example, it took more than a year before I told my father that I converted to Islam. My father’s initial reaction was anger and misunderstanding, while my mother’s reaction was rather astonishment. In retrospect, I do not really blame them for being so emotional about my conversion. After 5 years, it is still a sensitive theme, but we can now have normal conversations about it without screaming. The solution is to keep the relationship with your non Muslim family strong, even when it sometimes becomes really difficult or almost impossible.

The second problem is the image based on prejudices that one has of you. When I look at the converts in my area, I often see the same reaction from friends and acquaintances. One day you are still the ‘good Flemish boy’, and the next day you are considered as the ‘foreign Muslim’. True friends will eventually understand your choice, even if they will not always fully agree with it. You will often find yourself in a difficult situation, but with good behavior it is certainly not impossible to show that you are still the same person as before or even better.

By this I mean especially the fact that many converts are being looked at as if they had become a completely different person. However, it is not because one lives according to the rules of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, that one will assume a completely different character. One will still have the same passions and interests as before, as long as they are in accordance with the Islamic rules of course. It is remarkable that in many convert situations, the family and friends often quote the same argumentation. It makes it even funnier when those arguments are formulated as political standpoints. It is then also remarkably paradoxical that the friends and family who express themselves as free-spirited and supposedly tolerant to all religions or populations, are the ones who have the hardest time accepting a conversion.

Pictures: Stijn Ledegen by VRT

It always stuck with me how it is perfectly acceptable that you don’t drink alcohol because of a sport you play, but if you would have said that is it for the sake of the religion, then it suddenly becomes a very ridiculous idea. It is also perfectly acceptable, that you grow a beard, because it looks hip, but it becomes very radical when it is done for the sake of faith. However, it is never good to generalize. Every human being is made in an unique way with his own understandings.

Finally, I can only give advice to the convert to be clear and open, even though it is sometimes very difficult to accept the parents’ comments on certain topics. There will certainly be conflicts about issues that were previously of no importance, even on the emotional side. Just like the convert, the family also needs to be understanding and create a suitable way of life together. Islam is a religion of the middle way and the parents have a high position that has to be respected and honored. It is difficult for both of them to adapt directly to the new circumstances, a portion of patience will certainly be needed. In the end time heals all wounds.

Written by Stijn Ledegen

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Stijn is a Law student at the Flemish University in Brussels. He is interested in international and European law and politics. Since several weeks, Stijn has been doing research on the religious influence in Europe for the European Parliament. Because of his big love for travelling and exploring , he's in love with cultures and languages.
Besides being a student, Stijn loves sports and often goes to the gym during the weekends. A healthy body with a good mind and a spiritual soul is the perfect match to stay strong and to keep moving forward in a positive way in life!